Myth Trivia: William Tell, Cleopatra and the hapless Chicago Cubs

Trivia takes us around the world with a look at ancient civilizations, and a lost one as well.

Swiss mural highlighting William Tell's legendary deed. (Via Wikipedia entry on William Tell)

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina, February 10, 2016 – Trivia takes us to a variety of places today including Switzerland, Egypt and Chicago.

1 – William Tell: Most Americans are familiar with William Tell thanks to the overture to Gioacchino Rossini’s eponymous opera that became known in this country as the “Lone Ranger Theme.” The Swiss, however, claim William Tell as their national hero for his contribution to the founding of their country.

So the story goes, Tell, a farmer and a hunter, entered the village of Altdorf one day and refused to take off his hat to honor the Hapsburg Empire. The city’s bailiff, a man named Gessler, had placed a hat on a pole in the center of town, and required everyone who passed to acknowledge its presence by removing their own head covering.

When Tell refused, he was promptly arrewsted. As punishment, Gessler forced him to shoot an apple off his son’s head at 120 paces. Failure to succeed would result in death for both Tell and his son.

Accurately aiming his crossbow, William Tell famously succeeded. But after the contest, Gessler asked him, “You are safe now, but tell me why I saw you putting a second arrow inside your jacket?”

“Had I failed,” replied Tell, “I would have shot the second at you, and I would not have missed.”

Enraged at Tell’s answer, Gessler placed him in a boat on Lake Lucerne to be transported to a dungeon in Kussnacht.

Fortunately for Tell, a strong wind led the boat astray, allowing him to escape. He then made his way to Kussnacht to await the arrival of Gessler. Hiding behind a tree, Tell ambushed the bailiff and killed him with his second arrow.

Later, Tell met with three other men who had also been wronged by Gessler at Rutli Meadow just off the shore of Lake Lucerne. There they swore and oath “To assist each other with aid and every counsel and every favor, with person and good, with might and main, against one and all, who may inflict on them any violence, molestation or injury, or plot any evil against their persons or goods.”

From that day in 1307 forward, Switzerland became one of the oldest democracies in the world.

But now big question: Did William Tell really shoot the apple off his son’s head and did the Swiss national hero even exist?

The Smithsonian Institution notes that Tell’s legendary exploits were not completely written down until 250 years after they took place. According to the Smithsonian, a copy of the original Oath of Rutli turned up in 1758 showing there were only three representatives at the site, and Tell was not among them. Furthermore, the date was August 1291.

Today Switzerland celebrates their independence on August 1 using the 1291 date as their beginning.

As for the William Tell story, a Swiss scholar named Gottleib de Haller wrote a book called “William Tell: A Danish Fable,” in which he claimed the legend evolved from an old Viking story. Needless to say, De Haller’s theory was less than well received. A court action was taken and the book was burned in the Altdorf square where William Tell originally ignored the Hapsburg hat.

For his act of blasphemy, de Haller atoned with numerous apologies, stating his efforts were nothing more than a literary exercise. You see, when it comes to William Tell, the Swiss are absolutely not neutral.

2 – Cleopatra: We all know the famous Egyptian queen conducted notorious affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony of the Roman Empire. But have you ever thought about her age?

When we speak of the great pyramids of Egypt just outside of Cairo, we have a tendency to lump Cleo in that same era. The obvious reason for this is because both involve historical accounts of ancient Egypt.

But consider that the Great Pyramid of Giza, the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — and, amazingly, the only one to remain mostly intact — is believed to have been completed around 2560 BC.

Oddly enough, anyone who thinks about the Romans knows the empire was dominant during the time of Christ, since it was the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate who ordered his crucifixion.

Since Cleopatra dallied with Caesar and Antony, she lived during that same era. In truth, she died in 30 BC.

Which means that Cleopatra actually lived closer in the timeline of history to the invention of the iPhone than she did to the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza!

How’s that for a kick in the asp?

3 – Chicago Cubs: The Super Bowl is over and baseball’s Spring Training season nears. It’s the time of year when baseball notifies us that summer is not far away.

For the Chicago Cubs, hope once again springs eternal.

Imagine this however. The last time the hapless Cubs won a World Series was 1908. That was nine years before the NHL, 12 years before the NFL and 41 years before the NBA even existed.

More amazing is that women did not have the right to vote in the United States when the Cubs won their last Series. In fact, the Ottoman Empire still existed and lollipops had not yet been invented.

By the way, there were only 46 stars on the American flag in those days, since Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii and New Mexico still were not states!

Play ball!

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Clu (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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